The Washington Post reports that "Ben & Jerry’s workers at the company’s flagship ice cream shop in Burlington, Vt., are filing for a union election on Monday, adding momentum to a string of service-industry campaigns at high-profile companies such as Starbucks, Trader Joe’s and Apple.
"If the workers vote to unionize, they will be the first among Ben & Jerry’s U.S. locations to do so. The company, started by two former hippies, has built a reputation on serving up zany ice cream flavors like Half Baked and Cherry Garcia while unapologetically supporting social justice causes.
"The union drive serves as a test of the company’s values, workers said.
"Scoopers in Burlington said co-founder Jerry Greenfield showed up briefly at the store on Sunday — an unusual occurrence — but he skipped a meeting where workers announced to management their intent to unionize."
The Post points out that "Ben & Jerry’s has not yet made its stance known on the new campaign at its flagship store, but in 1998, it challenged a unionization attempt led by its plant maintenance workers in Vermont that ultimately failed."
One of the main issues for the workers is employee safety; the city of Burlington "has long grappled with heavy heroin use and overdoses among its population." In addition, the Post writes, organizers have asked management "to adhere to a set of 'free-election principles' for the organizing drive. Those include a pledge not to retaliate against pro-union workers; permission for workers to hold union-related meetings with staff if management holds union-related meetings with workers on company time; and a promise not to change wages and other working conditions to influence a worker’s stance toward unions."
“We are working with Ben and Jerry’s, not against it,” Parker Kimberly, a pro-union shift manager and forestry major at UVM, tells the Post. “This is about us having a seat at the table. We’d love to be part of their conversations.”
- KC's View:
It always has been my contention that when companies traditionally seen as progressive when it comes to employee relations face unionization initiatives, it generally is because workers feel a deeper connection to their employer than at many companies, and feel let down because their expectations are not being met.
Sort of like, good news/bad news: We love you so much that we're going to disrupt the culture.
That seems to be the case at Ben & Jerry's. And while on the surface it would appear that the deeper connections and higher expectations between labor and management would offer a clear path through the discontent, the fact is that they don't.